Mad Max: Fury Road–Director George Miller’s Reboot

In “Mad Max: Fury Road,” director-writer-producer George Miller depicts a world gone mad with the force of a high octane Road War.

The forcemad_max_fury_road_1 behind the seminal “Mad Max” trilogy has spent years reimagining the beauty and chaos of the post-apocalyptic world he created and the mythic Road Warrior adrift within it.

Miller always envisioned a film that would play out as a thrilling chase from start to finish.  “I think of action movies as a kind of visual music, and ‘Fury Road’ is somewhere between a wild rock concert and an opera,” Miller comments.  “I want to sweep the audience out of their seats and into an intense, rambunctious ride, and along the way you get to know who these characters are and the events that led up to this story.”

Producer Doug Mitchell, Miller’s filmmaking partner for 35 years, says the decade-long effort to bring “Mad Max: Fury Road” to the screen has itself been an exhilarating ride.  “George has a brilliantly creative mind, but with that creativity comes a certain pragmatism.  A project of this scale could only be possible with that combination, which he intuitively possesses.  We’ve gotten through some tight corners and hilarious moments along the way, but for me, it’s been a wonderful privilege to be there with him on his epic journey.”

mad_max_fury_road_2_hardyFor Miller, the road goes back further.  In the late 1970s, he was just out of medical school when, fueled by his love for cinema’s early action and chase movies, he set out to rediscover their pure visual language on his own.  Drawing from his experiences as an emergency room doctor, he conceived a tale of a solitary figure in a world stripped bare following the collapse of society, and terrorized by psychotic road gangs.

Miller notes, “I’ve always been fascinated by how societies evolve, which can be at times incredibly inspiring, but at other times disturbing.  When you strip away the complexity of the modern world, you can enter one that is very elemental, very spare, and tell stories that are basic allegories.”

Scraping together a shoestring budget, Miller assembled a rolling carnival of motorbikes and muscle cars, cast an unknown named Mel Gibson straight out of drama school, and hit the desolate highways on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, to capture the raw energy of a cataclysmic array of live stunts, with people driving real vehicles at real speeds.

“We have a car culture here in Australia, where the car is virtually a weapon,” notes screenwriter Nico Lathouris, a friend of Miller’s since their school days, who played the first film’s Grease Rat.  “George had been treating youths in horrific car crashes, and rather than taking it seriously, there was a tendency to brag about an experience in which someone was seriously injured or had died.  As a doctor, he felt he was just putting band-aids on a problem that was far greater, and this story was his way of getting to the core of it.”

mad_max_fury_road_4The result was “Mad Max,” which burst onto screens in 1979 and sent shockwaves through the culture.  As the “Mad Max” legend grew, Miller escalated his singular brand of propulsive action and immersive world-building with the two films that followed—the iconic “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” and the operatic “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”

“One of the ideas that drove the first ‘Mad Max,’ and drives ‘Fury Road,’ was Alfred Hitchcock’s notion about making films that can be watched anywhere in the world without subtitles,” Miller reflects.  “You’re trying to achieve what great pieces of music do—no matter what your mood, they take you to a place outside yourself, and you come out the other end having had an experience.  That’s what we’ve tried to do with these films.”

The stark, decayed landscapes, visceral action, minimal dialogue and kaleidoscopic cast of characters Miller laid out in the “Mad Max” trilogy birthed a whole new genre, and inspired generations of artists across every medium.  Tom Hardy, who takes on the title role of Max Rockatansky in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” states, “George essentially invented the post-apocalyptic atmosphere we now see in so many videogames and movies.  That’s his canvas, and he’s continuing to paint on it with all of the assets he has at his fingertips.  To be in this film is to sit with George in his toy box, and his imagination is so fantastic that you’re not really in a movie; you’re in George’s head.”

mad_max_fury_road_7_theronCharlize Theron, who originates a new character in the canon—Imperator Furiosa—attests that, with this film, Miller has forged a totally new vision that stands alone, even in the wake of its rich legacy.  “George has truly reimagined a world he loves with this film.  Anyone can enter it and experience something spectacular.  There are some nice little gems in there for people who love the movies, and, at the same time, I think he’s created something that will resonate with a new generation that didn’t grow up with ‘Mad Max.’  That’s the beauty of ‘Fury Road.’”

Nicholas Hoult, who plays the War Boy Nux, and counts himself among that generation, agrees.  “What’s incredible about George is that he can create something so massive, but there’s a real intimacy about it,” he says.  “So much thought has gone into each small piece of the whole mythology that even the tiniest detail will tell you everything you need to know about these characters and their environment.”

It’s a universe that lives in Miller’s imagination, and, Mitchell posits, “There are no limits to its depths and dimensions.  ‘Fury Road’ is really only the tip of the iceberg; there’s so much more under the surface.  George has spent many years thinking about this world and it keeps revealing itself to him.”

mad_max_fury_road_4The quest to immerse today’s audiences in Miller’s mad future with “Mad Max: Fury Road” would cross continents and span more than a decade.  It would leverage the talents of hundreds of artists to design and fabricate an authentic post-apocalyptic universe, from the creation of 3,500 storyboards to thousands of props and costumes.  In a logistical operation of unprecedented scale, the monumental production would hurl cast, crew and 150 hand-built drivable vehicles through the deserts of Namibia to stage a real-life Road War across multiple units for 120 days.

“The astonishing thing about George is that he is one hundred percent driven and focused on the film,” says producer and first assistant director PJ Voeten, a “Mad Max” veteran since “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”  “He has relentless stamina and attention to detail, and sets the bar so high that it lifts all of those around him.”

“We didn’t breathe for six months while making this film,” Theron attests.  “But doing something this challenging and this epic is what George thrives on.  He sees possibilities others never would have seen.”

The possibilities of the real drive the “Mad Max” legend, and Miller and his team of collaborators pushed practical filmmaking to its limits to raise the bar.  “The world of ‘Mad Max’ is heightened, but it’s not fantasy,” Miller explains.  “‘Fury Road’ was an opportunity to more fully realize its scope and energy with all the latest technologies.  We could put our cameras where they wouldn’t go in the past, and weave them through the armada with the wonderful Edge Arm system.  If there was a fight on a vehicle, we could put wires on the actors then erase them with CGI.  When you see Max hanging upside-down between two vehicles, that was Tom Hardy.  When Furiosa is hanging onto him, that was Charlize Theron hanging onto Tom.  And when you see Nux climbing onto the front of a vehicle, that was Nicholas Hoult.”

mad_max_fury_road_9_hardyFor Hoult, it was pure adrenaline.  “There’s nothing like feeling the rumble of a big V-8 engine underneath you and hearing trucks as they roar past with bombs going off and people being flung around on poles.”

“If you think a stunt is too extreme, or an explosion too spectacular, I promise you that it was there…I saw it,” Hardy asserts.  “It was action from the start of the day to the end of the day.  It was mad and immensely epic, and all of George’s own making.”

For the man at the center of it all, some things never change.  “There’s an intense and strange exhilaration in crashing vehicles in the desert.  You lose any sense of yourself and are just working off instinct and gut.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t mad,” Miller smiles.  “But to paraphrase an old saying, ‘You don’t have to be crazy to make a ‘Mad Max’ movie, but it helps.’”